Tantrums are the worst, am I right?
I’ve been parenting for more than four years now, and I still don’t really know how to react to them most of the time. Seriously, right now my go-to responses to my toddler losing her shit is either joining her in the theatrics, stomping around or raising my voice, or completely freezing up and giving in to whatever it is she wants just to make it stop.
Are you taking notes? Because I’ve obviously got this parenting thing mastered.
Seriously though, it is becoming pretty obvious this time around that the old tricks I used with my first aren't going to work with my 2-year-old. I need some new strategies if she and I are going to get past this phase with our dignities intact. I’ve done my fair share of Googling and consulting parenting books lately, but nothing has really felt like the right fit for our home. Then I read about parents using mindfulness to keep from losing their temper and decided I was just desperate enough to give it a try.
The idea behind mindfulness is when you become more aware of how you are feeling and how those emotions are presenting themselves in your body, you can slow down and find a healthy way to respond to those emotions. In general, getting angry with a toddler who is out of control isn’t unhealthy, it’s pretty normal, but when you lose control too, that’s when your anger becomes a problem.
“Moms need a variety of emotional tools to help themselves with their toddlers,” encouraged Dr. Celia Trotta, board-certified psychiatrist and advocate for gentle parenting practices. She offered three simple steps to using meditation to control yourself during the heat of a major toddler tantrum.
First, she suggested parents take a moment to become aware of their emotional state. This means taking note of and naming your feelings, whether that be anger, sadness or frustration and paying close attention to how those emotions display themselves in your body. Are you clenching your fists, or is your heart racing?
Next, Dr. Trotta says parents should begin to focus on calming themselves.
“Start with a basic bodily function like breathing,” she advised. "Just take a few moments and take a deep breath. If your child is safe and isn’t harming (himself or herself), you can take a minute to gather yourself.”
After you have begun to take deep breaths, use a saying or mantra to continue calming yourself and your child.
“Personally, I say ‘inner peace, outer calm’ a few times first to myself and then to my child,” she shared.
Finally, she offered some encouragement to parents who are really struggling during this difficult phase.
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“These may seem like simple recommendations, but I practice them myself with my own toddlers. I think it is most important that you remain calm and then use your calm to help calm your child. If you take the extra seconds or minutes to calm yourself down, you may be less likely to spank your child, say something inappropriate or may gather your thoughts enough to seek support from your partner.”
It isn't easy to slow down and take control of my body and my emotions when my toddler is terrorizing everyone in the house, but it works. When I take the time to practice mindfulness as I parent, it may not be a magic fix to getting my toddler to calm down but it does help me keep my temper under control, and that is half of the battle.